written by | Cailey Birchem
In 2019, Bemidji State University will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. The center for diversity and inclusion was formed due to recent nationwide events in which marginalized students, faculty and staff are calling for an end to institution structures that continue hierarchical arrangements, and also from Bemidji State’s commitment to be a university which allows for all of its students and employees to feel heard and welcome.
The work that was put into making the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center began in 2014. The taskforce noted that the diversity on BSU’s campus had drastically changed since the institutions first student body. Out of 4906 students enrolled in fall 2014 courses, approximately 10% of the student body is American Indian or a student of another racial or ethnic group. In addition, another 1.94% are international students. Clearly, the student body is more racially diverse than it once was. However, BSU still lags behind Minnesota State universities in this aspect. On average, students of color and American Indian students comprise 15% of the student bodies at Minnesota state university campuses.
In the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE 2015), only 50.7% of students stated that they “often” or “very often” had serious conversation with students who differ from them in terms of gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
After reviewing this data, student feedback and overall assessment of the campus, the Diversity Taskforce started its efforts to recruit a more diverse student body. That’s is where the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion center comes in. A place where students and faculty can have a space that fosters a supportive environment regardless of sexual orientation, age, gender, culture, race, background... the list goes on. Everyone has a unique perspective to share, and Bemidji State, with the help of the organizations like Students United, is helping encouraging diversity on its campus.
The following is an interview done with Kale Hennek, a Diversity Taskforce member, and Brian V. Xiong, Ed.D, the Coordinator for the Center of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Q - Diversity is a very broad subject. Do you have a simplified definition of diversity?
A - It depends which group of people defines diversity, other might seem diversity in terms of skin color, culture but it is much more than that diversity includes age and life experiences. I always see diversity as a right to share opinion while showing them respect where they are coming from. Everyone has different perspectives to share. We should all include students' voices as well while making decisions regarding diversity.
Diversity in Brian’s word is, “Diversity is not about how we differ, rather about how we respect, acknowledge, and embrace one another’s uniqueness.”
Q - Who is allowed to use diversity center?
A - Diversity center is open to all the students, faculty members and staff regardless of their sexual orientation, color, status, ability or race. Anyone can come and use the space to meet other people. It is open for group meetings as well, they will just have to email the director of the center.
Q - What is the goal of diversity center at BSU?
A - The goal of the diversity center is to make sure that our students feel welcomed at college. We want all of our students to experience varieties of culture at BSU. The main goal is to have a space where student, faculty and staff can come together and learn at a deeper lever about different people.
Q - Where did the idea/need come for the Diversity Center?
A - Among the several state universities, BSU was the only one to not have a diversity center. The idea came from students. It has long been a dream for many students at BSU to have a space like this.
Q - Is inclusion an issue on our Bemidji campus? If so, was the room created to help combat this?
A - Yes and no. We definitely do not have the most inclusive campus, but we have seen so much progress in just the passed few years.
Q - How can someone help diversity and inclusion efforts on Bemidji State University?
A - Students can help by sharing their ideas and creating small event related to diversity. Faculty can promote diversity as well, when faculty members participate on campus events, it acts as a motivating factor and will definitely help in creating more diverse environment.
Would you like to know more about diversity on Bemidji State’s campus? Students United is a great place to start. Advocating for changes like these to take place on Minnesota State campuses is essential in creating a healthy environment for all.
Check out this video to watch the ribbon cutting from the opening of the faculty! This is just the beginning.
If you have questions regarding this article, please contact Brain V. Xiong, Ed.D. at 218.755.3773.
*Statistics were taken from Bemidji State University’s Diversity & Inclusion Plan June 1, 2016 - May 21, 2019.